A combination of advancing years, Boak & Bailey’s dastardly ‘Related’ links’ wormhole, and a lack of pub visiting has led me to to thinking about how I got into this beer drinking lark and specifically real ale. The story below may be riddled with inaccuracies but that’s age and beer for you.
I also wanted to try and understand the psyche of the modern craft keg drinkers and their drinking venues. Is the craft keg emergence in some part a generational movement. In 1960s (and RetiredMartin) parlance, a ‘get with it daddio’ moment. My son has better taste than me and certainly a more open mind..surely there must be something in these new beers with intense hoppiness and unusual flavours.
The mid 1970s had me drinking lager (22p a pint springs to mind) at the Poly bar with occasional forays into Wards and Stones in the Sheffield backstreet pubs. Quite rightly we were told…”you’re welcome to drink here, but don’t even think about stealing trophies”.
Cold tripe on the bar at the Captive Queen estate pub is burnt into the memory more than the beer. Occasionally we’d go up market and have a Stella!
Trips home to Burton would be Bass or Burton Ale (from 1976), never Pedigree. Being told off for sitting in someone’s regular seat at the Coopers. How could drinking beer be anything to write home about, it was just everywhere.
My dad, a confirmed keg lager drinker, just didn’t get why I would drink cask beer. Mucky beer that he’d seen my publican grandfather adulterate with slops and lemonade.
This was beer drinking because that’s what we did and we had what was available. Although I remember a lads’ holiday on the Norfolk Broads where we sought out pubs that had escaped the Watney’s Red Barrel curse. CAMRA having its first influence? I suspect we got very excited about Greene King in those days, and Adnams would have been off the scale.
Towards the end of the 1970s and early 1980s my memory suggests that life had changed. I had more money thanks to jobs and I’d hit the big cities of Birmingham and London. I suspect Richard Boston’s ‘Grauniad’ columns and the publication of his ‘Beer and Skittles’ had as much influence on the young middle-class as CAMRA.
However I do remember buying the 1978 Good Beer Guide. Had pubs and real ale been appropriated by the burgeoning graduate class? Or perhaps they just thought they had. A wonderful line in an extract from a Bristol Pub Guide in a recent tweet, refers to a locals’ pub having “the students and trendies moving in”. All strangely reminiscent of current beer battle lines, perhaps.
We were so on trend with our nights in Atkinsons Bar, below the Midland Hotel in Birmingham. Barrels of Courage Directors, Ruddles (and possibly Bass, in my dreams) offering gravity poured pints from breweries of far away lands (relatively). I suspect there was some degree of drinking with ‘people like us’.
As a side line in drinking, it was Victorian back street pubs in the city centre or by the canal at the Prince of Wales. Ansells, Brew XI and the occasional Highgate Mild, all much loved by us town planners berated by Nairn.
When London beckoned at the start of the 1980s it was Sarf London boozers (we were right on), South Bank crawls and Firkin pubs. Beer types had started to matter but perhaps more importantly it was an opportunity to nail pubs as ours…well ours and similar people.
So as young folk we wanted beers that weren’t widely available, venues that were different and we liked to drink with people liked us. How times change.
While I was never a trainspotter as such, I always regarded real ale enthusiasm as something akin to trainspotting. There were a finite number of beers and pubs to “bag”, and you would have to travel to different parts of the country to find them.
I never saw it as a trendy activity. Once you can get 50 different beers in pubs in your own town any weekend, and a different 50 the next week, the fascination has gone.
And I see attempts to claim that early CAMRA was something essentially the same as modern-day craft beer enthusiasm are very wide of the mark. In some ways the two are polar opposites.
I believe there are many similarities between the early years of CAMRA and craft beer entusiasts today,I am lucky to have experienced and enjoyed both eras. The driving force for both movements was and is an enthusiasm for beer and a willingness to travel to experience good or different beer. Both movements promoted festivals,CAMRA at Covent Garden in 1975 and the craft beer movement at events such as Indyman. Both movements have led to the founding of specialist bars and new breweries.
Nice read. I had no idea you were older than me, the Bass keeps you young.
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I am ancient but pickled in Bassamic vinegar.